Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Guest Blog: Michelle Byers' Laramie Race Report

Saturday, July 28th: The 4:30 am wake-up call came earlier than I had hoped given that I hadn’t slept much the past several nights; my brain was in overdrive thinking about the race. This was only my second endurance race, and having been pulled from the Park City E50 the previous year after missing a cutoff time, I was amped to see how my training was going to pay off in the 2007 Laramie Enduro.

After downing a plain bagel and chocolate soy milk, I lay on the bed and ran through my race strategy in my head. Go out hard and fast through at least aid station #2 to make time on the course hopefully ensuring that I made all the cutoff times. The good news was that it had been raining in Laramie all week, so the trails were well packed and fast as we learned the day before in our pre-race ride.

Dave and I arrived at the race parking lot at about 6:00 am and debated – arm & leg warmers or not? There was a layer of fog that had settled at 7500 feet. It was cool, about 52 degrees but no rain; we decided to err on the side of a little extra warmth after getting really chilled on the downhill to the start line. Our warm-up got cut short when we realized we hadn’t signed, so we jumped in a line that was 20 minutes long, signed in and then found our spots among the hoards of some 360 racers. AC/DC was blaring at the race start, and I was excited but feeling much calmer than I had at the start of previous races; my heart rate was only 99.

Expert racers were off first, and my stomach jumped….as did my brain. Sport racers were next, and at 7:05 am we were off. I began weaving my way through a host of riders up the service road hill…heart rate only at 169…good pace, trying to edge my way up in the pack to avoid the inevitable bottleneck that I soon reached once jumping from the service road to single track. Again, weaving around bobbling riders, I finally found my way onto they single track and I’m off. Feeling strong, legs are spinning well as I find my way through the tree-lined single track…down the technical and rocky hills…I’m thinking ‘this is beautiful trail and nothing like riding at home in the Big Hole mountains of Idaho’. I finally pop out of the trees, cross the two lane road and jump onto the fast rolling service road in the open plains. The fog is still lingering over the course and I adjust my sunglasses to the Mr. Magoo position on my nose, to enable better viz. Making good time, heart rate still in the upper 160s and feeling great. At mile six I hit one of the loose and sandy sections of the course. Next thing I know, my bike is sliding sideways, left foot is out of my clip and holy shit I’m gonna’ wreck. Luckily, I managed to keep it together, ride out through the treacherous ruts, regroup, and get my mojo back. Whew…that was too close! Two guys rode past me and congratulated me for a spectacular save.

As I continue making my way through the immensely diverse terrain of fields, aspen groves, and single track and double track, I realize how much fun I’m having and how quickly the miles are ticking by. This is great! I reach aid station #1 (16.7 miles) at 1:29:00, well before the 2:45:00 cut off time. In addition to going out hard and fast early in the race, I also knew I needed to limit my time spent at aid stations. I knew I had enough water and calories to get me to aid #2, so I grabbed a water bottle from the outstretched hand of one of the volunteers and blew through aid #1.

The fog finally begins to lift and the warmth of the sun penetrates the back of my jersey. The next several miles are somewhat of a blur as the miles continued to fly by, and I continued to maintain a high but sustainable heart rate. Mile 20…my sit bones and upper back are killing me, and I’m having a mental low point in the race. I realize that I have 50.5 miles to go. Then, I catch another female racer and ask ‘How ya’ doing?’ She replies, ‘Not so great and my confidence is shot.’ I tell her she’s doing great and to keep up the good work. I suddenly realize that I feel better myself! Then I remind myself…focus on the small victories…getting up the next rooted, rock laden hill…reaching the next aid station…focusing on when I need to take calories again. With those thoughts in my head, I lifted myself out of my temporary funk and knocked out the next 16+ miles. I pulled into aid #2 (~35 miles) at 3:03:00; again, well in advance of the 5:00:00 cutoff time. I was feeling strong and focused. Much to my surprise, I saw my friend Joanne at aid #2. In my six years of mountain biking, Joanne has always been stronger and faster than I am, so I was jazzed to know that my pacing strategy was working so far. After a quick refill of Heed and water in my camelback with the help of a volunteer, I was on my way in four minutes.

The several miles of trail following aid #2 were sweet. Rolling and fast with beautiful, expansive views with only a few deep puddles to navigate through. Thanks to cows, this also meant navigating around…or through if you weren’t as lucky…fresh patties. Oh well, it wouldn’t be a mountain bike race without a few extra obstacles. Damn, Joanne passed me! As the course progresses, I remind myself of my body’s hourly regimen of calorie intake from Hammer gel and endurolytes. I’ve never had cramping in a race, and don’t want to start today. I roll into aid #3 at about 5:00:00 having completed about 45 miles. I realize that I haven’t yet peed during the race, which isn’t good, but this aid station is pretty exposed. I give it a thought for a split second but decide to wait until I find a large rock. With a full camel back and only three minutes lost, I roll out of aid #3. So far, so good, but I know the course is going to get tougher from here on out.

For the next nine miles, the course continued to climb and included several nasty bog crossings, one of which was thigh deep. Nothing like humping your bike through a big wallow wondering what is lying on the bottom. Luckily the bog monster didn’t launch out at me and take a limb off, although I’m not sure if my bike shoes will ever be the same! Reminder to self…calories, endurolytes. God, the miles are going by slowly, and my legs are starting to feel heavy, but the race course volunteers continue to give their hoots, hollers and boosts of confidence which help keep me moving forward. I finally reach aid #4 at ~6:10:00. Okay, I’ve done 54 miles and I’m well within all the cutoff times so far. I tell myself that I have to keep rolling; no long stops. At this point, I’m about useless and can’t even attempt to fumble my bladder open. Another wonderful volunteer assists me and makes sure I’ve got everything I need. Off I go, slowly but surely.

Clearly, the hardest part of the course for me, both mentally and physically. Another low moment, and another self-help speech to pull myself from the dark depths of despair. I will NOT fail, I tell myself. This race will NOT beat me. I don’t care if I have to hike the next 16.5 miles; I WILL finish. With more short, steep climbs and legs muscles starting to fail, I realize just how hard the course now seems. I slip down into my granny gear, reminding myself constantly that I just need to keep turning the pedals over and moving forward. I’m spending less time looking around and more time trying to focus on the next five feet of trail. FINALLY, I reach aid #5 in about 7:30:00; a huge victory. I’m again assisted with my hydration pack and given a boost of confidence from a volunteer…only 7 miles to go. With 63+ miles behind me, I mentally gear up for what I know is the last very difficult climb…the Headquarters Climb. As I roll out from aid #5, I see the rolling service road ahead and think, ‘good, I can make up a little time’. Well, easier said than done. My brain wanted to go but my legs just couldn’t handle spinning in my big chain ring in the front. So, I resigned myself to a slightly slower speed, but man the downhills were a blast with top speeds reaching close to 30 miles per hour.

I reached the bottom of the HQ climb at 7:44:00 along with a few other riders. Together, we leap-frogged each other several times in a combo ride/hike-a-bike shuffle. Mentally, I really perked up; there’s nothing like being with other riders who are also suffering. About half way up the climb, an older female volunteer sat perched on a tree root with a big cooler of water. She said, “You’re doing great; you’re halfway up the last gnarly climb, so just keep riding like a girl!’. I thanked her as graciously as possible with a smile on my face and continued my ‘push’ to the top. The group of riders I set out on the HQ climb with broke apart at the top, and again I was alone. The views, though, gave me a lift and I thought not everyone gets to experience this. I am so fortunate. Legs burning and feet bruised, I rode as much of the next 1.5 miles as possible. I was passed by a male rider, who said, ‘we’re almost there – only about a half mile to go!’. My gut jumped with excitement and my heart raced with the thought of being so close to the finish. He pulled away from me, and I found myself silently weaving through the last part of the course….so I thought. I came upon a woman rider, not in the race. As I passed her, she said, I don’t think you want to go that way. I explained that I was in the race, and apparently so was her husband. After making a wrong turn that cost me about 15 minutes, coming within a hair’s with of losing it, and having to dig deeply to climb two unnecessary hills, she graciously got me back on course. Other racers – YEAH! And, oh my god, I see the road…and now I’m on the service road flying downhill past where we parked that same morning. Big chain ring in the front, wind flying through my helmet and tears starting to well in my eyes. With a right hand turn I’m 100 yards from the finish line and I can see the canopy Dave and I set up the day before next to the finish line; then I see Dave jumping up from his chair running out to greet me. As I cross the finish line in 8:54:00, the tears start flowing down my cheeks and my breathing is short and quick. I roll past the volunteer trailer and turn around to see Dave, my husband and best friend, coming up to me. I throw my arms around his neck, tears streaming down my face. The sense of accomplishment, the sense of relief, the sense of joy…it was overwhelming!

What an amazing experience. I will remember this race for years to come and am already looking forward to next year’s race. The course was fabulous and the volunteers, out of this world.


Ed said...

What's this, the corners of my eyes are getting wet :-)

Excellent story, excellent race Michelle! Keep those pedals turning, I can't tell you how many times I had to tell myself that last Saturday.

The volunteers are like angels aren't they.

Wonderful meeting you and looking forward to more rides with you guys.


Anonymous said...

From Kevin Dielissen: Great story, good job!!!!! You are a ROCKSTAR!

Anonymous said...

Go Michelle!

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